Traffic in Saigon is a dizzying, unceasing wave of motorbikes. There are 100 bikes for every car on the road, mostly scooters no bigger that 150cc. They move clustered together in a swarm, swerving and billowing like a school of fish in the flowing water. The wonder is how they don't collide. But they do, just not nearly as often as one would expect. The Saigonese are born on their bikes. They go to school on them, date on them, shop on them, surf the internet on them, sleep on them, and sometimes, yes, they die on them. They are parked inside living rooms, next to the television or by the bed. Motorbikes weave the fabric of this society, for better or worse.
In Cholon, Saigon's Chinatown, negotiating the traffic is even trickier. Mercantile activity is a breakneck pace, and there's less awareness of foreigners stumped at intersections. Best advice in crossing any street is to step resolutely forward and make no sudden stops or hesitations. That game of Frog. It's the only way.
I ducked into a small snack shop to rest my feet and guzzle a bottle of water. A group of kids from the nearby school gathered around a table to tease and rabble each other, sending the occasional english word my way to get a reaction. That worked, but I was much more stunned in seeing these 13-year-olds buy soda pop, chips and cigarettes from the lady running the place, They puffed away like pulmonary veterans, with nary a sign that this was illicit or uncommon.
Alas, smoking, like riding, is learned yoyng.